This book is available now so this is the last snippet.

1636 The Flight Of The Nightingale – Snippet 17

Chapter 11

The walk to the reception room was made in silence. The grand duke led the way with very firm steps, almost stalking. Behind him came a couple of his guards, followed by Del Migliore, who was in turn followed by his companions. A couple more guards brought up the rear of the little procession. They trooped across the piazza and back into the palace, then down hallways and around corners until they arrived at the small reception room.

The palace-major followed Ferdinando into the room. The guards spread out and took their positions against various wall. The grand duke stalked over to a very ornate chair standing in the center of one of the side walls and seated himself. Roberto started to say something, but Ferdinando held up a hand, so the palace-major closed his mouth and settled himself to wait.

It wasn’t long before Piero hurried into the room. He paused before the grand duke long enough to bow, then moved to his own place against the back wall behind the chair. That meant that the dowager duchess shouldn’t be long in coming. Roberto hoped it did, anyway.

And it was only a short time before the duchess swept into the room through the doorway the rest of them had used. To Roberto’s eye, she looked ill; skin pale even below whatever she had applied to her face, and leaning on her companion’s arm. Nonetheless, she was walking with some energy, and strode to another chair set beside Ferdinando’s that was only slightly less ornate than the one that the grand duke was occupying. She turned and settled in the chair, then looked over at the grand duke.

“You requested my presence, Your Grace.”

Her voice was a bit cold. Roberto decided to be circumspect during the next discussion. He had no desire to get caught up in the middle of a ducal-level family tiff.

“Yes, Princess,” Ferdinando replied, looking at his grandmother… His voice was level and controlled, if not quite as cold as his grandmother’s. “Messer Del Migliore has things to tell us that he has discovered about La Cecchina. I thought it best that we both hear them at the same time.” He faced forward again and gestured toward Roberto. “Proceed.”

“As you direct, Your Grace,” Roberto said with a slightly deeper bow that what he had been using during their earlier conversations. Their current setting seemed to warrant a little greater formality. “After hearing of Maestra Caccini’s possible…indisposition from your lips earlier today, Your Grace, I undertook to determine what her condition was. We found the door to the Maestra’s quarter barred and the shutters locked. No one responded to our serious knocking on the door, so my attendant,” Roberto gave a graceful gesture to indicate Paolo, “was able to open the latched shutters and sent a servant in to unbar the door. I had summoned my assistant Alessandro Nerinni and guard captain Cesare Falconieri to assist in the process and if necessary serve as witnesses as to what we discovered.”

Roberto paused there to give his hearers a moment to absorb what had been said and ask questions. Ferdinando made a short sharp gesture that the palace-major took to mean ‘get on with it’.

“The Maestra was not in her quarters.”

“Then where is she?” the dowager duchess demanded. “She was supposed to come to me this morning, but she didn’t, and no one has seen her, and now you are saying she is not in her rooms. Where is she?”

The duchess’ voice was shaking, which alarmed Roberto more than a bit. He waited a moment, then responded in a quiet tone, looking only at the grand duke.

“When we examined the Maestra’s quarters, Your Grace, we found that although all her court clothing and shoes were there, other plainer clothing and shoes were not there. Nor could we find any money or jewelry. In fact, everything of value was gone, except for her lute. And perhaps most telling, all of her music is gone.”

Ferdinando stiffened. “Her music? All of it?”

“Gone, Your Grace.”

“I begin to understand. Continue, Messere.”

“Based on everything else we have found, Your Grace, it appears that Maestra Caccini has left the city.”

“She’s left Firenze?”

“That’s what we believe, Your Grace. As I said, she appears to have taken everything she values, plus we discovered that she has removed her daughter from the care of the sisters at La Crocetta, and no one knows where the child is now located. We think they are together, and are headed for another city.”

“Where?” Ferdinando demanded.

Roberto held his hand out, and Paolo placed the carbon-rubbed piece of paper in it. Roberto stepped forward and handed it to the grand duke, then spent the next several minutes explaining the significance they had assigned to the letters.

“Brescia?” Ferdinando said after the account was finished. “Venezia I could understand. Milano I could understand. Roma I could understand. But Brescia? That makes no sense.”

“Unless she is planning on going beyond the frontiers, Your Grace.” Ferdinando raised an eyebrow.

“That puttana!” Princess Christine suddenly erupted. “That little whore! After all these years of promoting her, of preferring her, of giving her support and freedom and protection to do her music, and she throws it all over to run north of the mountains. She’s going to France, I’m sure of it! They tried to hire her away from us before, and we rejected it. Now they’re trying again!”

Roberto felt his eyebrows rising pretty much of their own accord. That was certainly a possibility he hadn’t considered. But it wasn’t one he wanted to take seriously. It just didn’t feel right. Grantville still seemed like the only thing north of the Alps that would have much attraction for the Maestra.

The duchess stood up and turned on her grandson. “You send after her, Your Grace! You send someone to find her, and drag her back by her hair, if necessary. I want her back here, before us, so I can explain to her what an ungrateful sow she is! I’ll have her well-striped, I will. The impudence. Whore.” Her voice dwindled away to inaudible mutterings.

Roberto noted that the dowager duchess was literally panting, almost hyperventilating, and her eyes were wild. The grand duke stood as well. He took his grandmother by the arm. “As you say, Princess.” He looked to her attendant. “Lady Maria, the princess is weary. Please escort her to her rooms, and see to it that she gets some rest.”

Maria dipped her head, took the duchess’ other arm, and began guiding her toward the doorway, murmuring softly to her with every step. After resisting the first step or two, the duchess seemed to change her mind and went along willingly. The others watched until she left their field of view through the doorway, then looked to each other.

It seemed to Roberto that the dowager duchess, Princess Christine, La Principessa, however one thought of her, was beginning to fail. Certainly, that outburst would never have occurred even six months ago. The princess was ordinarily much more controlled than that. Or she had been.

Ferdinando ran his hand down his face slowly, then resumed his place on his seat.

“I ask that you wipe the last few moments from your minds, Messeres,” the grand duke said. His tone and posture indicated that he was speaking as grand duke and that, though phrased as a request, this was an order.

There was a responsive collective, “Yes, Your Grace,” from those in the room.

“Nonetheless, Princess Christine, speaking as a member of the Medici family and as the dowager grand duchess of Tuscany, is correct that if the actions of Maestra Caccini are as you say, she has certainly cast a great insult on our family. That being the case, the most correct course of action would be to bring her back to stand before us and present her defense before she is, as the princess indicated, thrown out onto the street.”

The grand duke was silent for a moment. “It is unfortunate, perhaps,” he finally resumed, “that our Consulting Detective is not available to us for this work.”

Roberto felt a flash of irritation at the reference to the up-timer. “Your Grace,” he said, “what we have now is not a matter of chemistry or deduction. There are no tests to be performed. What is before you is a hunt, not a puzzle, and you have some very fine hunters in your train that you can release to run the quarry to ground. Not all problems can be solved with a hammer.”

Ferdinando sat back in his chair. After a moment, he gave a slow nod. “You are correct, Messere. Very correct. Although your final statement should perhaps be more wittily phrased as, ‘Not all problems can be solved with a microscope.’ But your point is well taken. So if I am to send out the huntsmen, how would you recommend organizing the hunt?”

Roberto had already done that consideration in his mind, and now he set it forward for the grand duke’s consideration. “Let Messer Nerinni and Captain Falconieri remain here in Firenze to search the city and the immediate surroundings, to ensure that she has not remained here, and to look for anything that might confirm our thoughts or substantially alter them. Meanwhile, I will take your warrant in hand and take a small group of guards and companions and will pursue this trail,” he lifted the paper, “trusting that a mounted group of experienced soldiers and riders can outdistance a woman traveling with a girl. I believe that we will catch her up before Brescia.”

Ferdinando sat again for a long moment, obviously mulling over Roberto’s recommendations. “Let it be as you have stated,” he said at length. “And you will have your warrant. But all of you,” he looked around the room, “I want her returned alive and well and with no damage. She is a talent given by God, one who graced our court for decades, and despite her recent actions, she is worthy of respect. See to it that she is so treated. Is that understood?”

Another rumbled collective, “Yes, Your Grace,” was heard.

“Good.” The grand duke stood. “Be about it, then.”